Wednesday, September 11, 2013

UB40 - Labour of Love

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Labour of Love, the fourth studio album from UB40. This multi-Platinum seller from 1983, featuring all cover tunes, went to number 14 on the US Billboard Album chart, and number 1 in the Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at number 98 on its list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 80’s.

Side one begins with “Cherry Oh Baby”, the fourth single; it charted at number 12 in the UK, and number 7 in Ireland and the Netherlands. Originally the song was done in 1971 by reggae singer Eric Donaldson.

“Keep On Moving”, the B-side to the second single, was originally performed by the Impressions in 1964 and was later covered by Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1971. The UB40 version emulates the latter version but adds a synth element that clearly updated it for a new decade. The lyrics tell the tale of a wanted man falsely accused of a murder.

The second single “Please Don’t Make Me Cry” reached number 41 in New Zealand, number 35 in Canada, number 11 in Belgium, number 10 in the UK, number 6 in Ireland and number 1 in the Netherlands. The original reggae version was by Winston Tucker from 1970.

The Jamaican band called the Melodians first recorded “Sweet Sensation” in 1976.

“Johnny Too Bad” was first recorded by the Jamaican band the Slickers in 1976. The UB40 version bounces along on a synthesized calliope rhythm.

Side two opens with “Red Red Wine”, a cover of the Neil Diamond hit from 1968 and done in the style of the 1969 cover by reggae singer Tony Tribe. As the first single from the album, it charted at number 34 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 14 in Sweden, number 12 in Germany, number 10 in Norway, number 8 in Switzerland, number 5 in Austria, number 2 in Australia and Canada, and number 1 in Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK. When the song was re-released in 1988, it went to number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

“Guilty” was first done by a reggae band called Tiger. The vocals of the verses are done in a conversational manner.

Joe Monsano first recorded “She Caught the Train”. The UB40 version has a bit of a quirky synth dance hook to it.

“Version Girl” was first recorded by Boy Friday. The vocals are done in a traditional ranking style, backed by syncopated percussion.

The third single “Many Rivers to Cross” went to number 48 in New Zealand, number 16 in the UK and number 11 in Ireland. The song was first recorded by Jimmy Cliff in 1969. UB40 blends both gospel and dance elements to it with fantastic results.

Based on the success of this album, UB40 did three more cover albums as part of the Labour of Love series. They were released in 1989, 1998 and 2010 respectively.

Outside of the singles that opened each of the sides, I heard very little of Labour of Love back in the day. It might have been possible that the local college radio station on campus played them, but I likely did not know it was UB40 unless the deejays pointed that out. I think the band and this record did a lot to expose a new generation like mine to reggae music. For that, my hat is off to them.

For my review of the band’s 1982 album UB44, click here.

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